30 Chilies and Counting [Rajasthani Laal Maas]

At the Indian restaurant that I used to work at, we had a strategy for customers who stayed well past closing time — turn off the hood vent and start burning red chilies in a pan.

Before long, the customers would thank us with coughs and splutters.

If anyone asked about the toxic amount of heat filling the air, Chef would just tell them that we like our food spicy.

“Oh *coughcough*, ok. Good*cough*night!”

This worked so well because the restaurant had an open kitchen, or a kitchen that is not separate from the dining room.

I must admit that I was a little bit scared of being on the receiving end of this chili torture when I made Laal Maas. Unfortunately, I don’t have a hood vent in my kitchen.

Laal Maas literally means “fiery”, with “laal” being the Hindi word for “red”.

The dish is hot in both senses of the word; it has chili heat and spice heat. The chili heat comes from the 35 whole red chilies used; the spice heat comes from cloves and black cardamom.

This many red chilies.

I survived the cooking with two open windows.

M Hay didn’t survive the eating, though.

He has a pretty serious hate-on for lamb flavour. He got a piece of fat in his bowl and immediately ran to the bedroom and shut the door, yelling “big jiggly piece of lamb fat!”

“What if my enemies are reading this blog? Then they’ll know how to strike at me,” he says.

The funny thing is that he was the one to pick out this recipe from the cookbook Curry Cuisine when we bought it a few months ago. Huh?

Stir the spices into the yogurt.

Leftovers of the final tadka used to finish the dish. "Tadka" means spices tempered in ghee.

Anyways, the dish was a joy to make. My favourite part was the first tempering of the cloves, cardamom and bay leaves in ghee; it smelled heavenly.

If you aren’t used to eating spicy food, I don’t reccommend this dish. It really is extremely hot.

Try seeding some or all of the red chilies if you want to reduce the heat a bit. I seeded around 50 per cent and the dish more than lived up to its name.

Laal Maas
*Recipe from Vivek Singh, as published in Curry Cuisine (ed. Jeni Wright)

25-35 dried red chilies
1 1/2 tsp whole cloves
150 g ghee
250 g plain yogurt
2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp red chili powder
2 tsp salt
3 bay leaves
6 green cardamom pods
5 black cardamom pods
75 g garlic, finely chopped
250 g onions, finely chopped
1 kg bone-in leg of lamb or goat, cut into 2.5-cm cubes
3 cups lamb stock or water
2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro leaves

Set aside 3 or 4 of the dried chilies to use later; put the remainder to soak in 1/2 cup water. Also put aside 4-6 of the cloves and 1 tbsp of the ghee.

Mix the yogurt with the cumin seeds, ground coriander, red chili powder and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

Heat the rest of the ghee in a heavy-based pan. Add the remaining cloves, bay leaves and green and black cardamom pods. When they begin to crackle and change colour, add the garlic. Sauté for 2 minutes, or until the garlic begins to turn golden. Add the onions and cook for 10 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring constantly.

Stir in the meat and cook for 2-3 minutes. Drain the soaked red chilies and add to the pan. Continue cooking for 10-12 minutes, or until the liquid has evaporated and the meat starts to brown slightly. Now add the spiced yogurt and cook for another 10-12 minutes, or until the liquid from the yogurt has evaporated.

Add the stock or water and bring to a boil. Then, cover the pan, reduce the heat and simmer until the meat is tender. Adjust the seasoning. Remove from the heat and keep warm.

To prepare the tadka, or tempering, which boosts the flavours, heat up the reserved ghee or oil in a large ladle over a flame (or in a small pan) and add the reserved cloves and dried red chilies. Cook for 1-2 minutes, or until the ghee changes colour and the aromas of the spices are released. Pour the contents of the ladle over the lamb curry, sprinkle with the chopped cilantro and serve.

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5 thoughts on “30 Chilies and Counting [Rajasthani Laal Maas]

  1. I now know what I’m doing with about half of the dried chiles that I bought to make chili oil. Thanks 🙂

      • Super tasty! I’m inclined to make it again for my sister-in-law who is a huge fan of spicy food. But, I did find that the sauce wasn’t as thick as I’d hoped. Maybe I’ll use a bit less stock next time.

        Thanks!

      • I’m sure your sister-in-law will love it. I always find the trick with red meat curry sauce consistency is to just keep cooking them until the bones go hollow (all of the marrow comes out), because the marrow thickens the sauce. Post pictures if you have them!

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